Mile 81 by Stephen King
I read King's Mile 81 last night and thoroughly enjoyed it. Readers are split on this one, I don't ever think I've seen reviews more evenly divided between the stars than this short story. Leave it to King to even know how to manipulate what should be a bell curve!
Mile 81 leads us into familiar King territory, the secret world of kids. One reviewer went on and on about how kids would do this and wouldn't do that. Well, that reviewer is clueless. He or she may know how kids act when adults are around, but none of us knows what happens when they are with each other. It's true . . . And, frankly, I don't care because King creates a child's world that I believe. My ex used to play a variant on Paratroopers from Hell as a boy and has the scars to prove it. And listen to boys when they don't know they are being overheard, it is eff-this and eff-that as they flex their fledgling man-muscles. And as the proud possessor of my very first hangover at age 12, the thought that a boy would say, "yuk" at the bottle of vodka is wishful thinking at best.
And that is the crux of this tale. The monster was defeated because three children saw it for what it was and believed it to be what it was. Adults just kept lining up, as symbolized by the traffic jam on the off-ramp (one Expedition, pick-up with a trailer, abandoned gre-en Prius and a man-eating Ford or Chevy . . . sung to the tune of 12 Days of Christmas). And because adults had to believe there was a rational explanation (after all, they are adults) they kept being eaten. It didn't have to be a car. It could have been a thinny, a Venus Fly-Trap or a portable black hole. The car was a prop. Nothing more. Adults were eaten because they had lost their belief in monsters.
Enter the two young children who watch their parents disappear into the maw of the car. They knew the truth and the truth was monstrous. Five dead adults later, a 10-year old listens to the story told by the youngsters and sees the logic. Only a monster could do such a thing. Ergo, the car is a monster. However, in true "boy" fashion, he couldn't leave it alone. Calling back to The Body and IT, the boy just has to see the dead kid, just has to play in the Barrens, and just has to run up and touch the door of the haunted house. The magnifying glass is a trope. Nothing more. He wanted to have a story to tell the Raiders. He had wanted to show off his prowess with a magnifying glass and been dismissed. What better story than to focus it on a monster? And it worked. My only complaint was that it worked a little too well. I would have rather had a puddle of stinky goo for the adults to muse over while the kids knew the truth.
I never understand the constant rage in reviews about character development in plot-driven stories like this. What did you need to know about Bible guy or horse lady other than they were really tasty. It was their cars in the conga line on the off-ramp that moved the story along, not their personalities. The theme of this story (and oh how I loathe themes) was the fundamental difference between adults and children and how sometimes that difference is deadly. Well done to my fav writer and I loved the sneak peek at the JFK thriller. PS: Why comment about a Stephen King comment about Sarah Palin that is irrelevant to this story. Other than, there is a monster not even King could dream up.
Four stars just because the monster disappeared. Available for Kindle, get thee to Amazon and decide for yourself.